In Five Years, One-Third Of Americans Will Own Tablets

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[credit provider=”Associated Press”]

By 2016, more than one-third of Americans will own tablet computers.That prediction from Forrester shows why it’s so important for Microsoft and its hardware partners to come out with viable competitors to the iPad. 

Forrester says that U.S. customers will purchase more than 227 million tablets between 2010 and 2016. The refresh cycle for tablets will be two years — about the same as smartphones, but quite a lot faster than PCs. That fast refresh cycle means that 112 million Americans will own tablets by 2016 — that’s projected to be about 34% of the population.

The figures are similar in the seven largest European countries, where Forrester expects about 30% of adults — about 106 million people — to own a tablet by 2016.

Every single one of those tablets will delay or replace the potential purchase of a laptop or desktop PC.

Since more than 90% of PCs still run Windows, that means Microsoft is the big loser — unless it can capture a decent share of the tablet market.

That’s why it’s so important for Microsoft to get its tablet story straight in the next year. But the company is releasing two separate operating systems, which will run on different kinds of tablet hardware with different capabilities — one kind of tablet will include the old Windows desktop and will run current apps, while the other won’t. That could confuse consumers if Microsoft and its partners don’t handle the split deftly.

Some good news for Microsoft: Forrester recommends that most OEMs who are selling “pure” Android tablets today switch to Windows 8. The only exception is for companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble who are using Android to build custom tablets with links to their own software and services.

The full report is available to subscribers here.